Book Review: Understanding Organizations. , , Finally! Structure in Sevens, by Henry Mintzberg – CEOWORLD Magazine

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When it comes to studying organizations, Henry Mintzberg has been a go-to for nearly five decades. In all, Mintzberg has written about 20 books. If you’re in the strategic management field or you occupy a position in or near the C-suite, chances are you’ve got at least one of them on that walnut bookcase. Or just Google “Mintzberg” and “management” – millions of hits come up.

But at its core, as Mintzberg explains in the introduction to his latest, Understanding Organizations. , , Finally! Structure in Sevens, he is more of an organization theorist than a management theorist. Organizations attract him: “As soon as I walk into one, I get a sense of it—the culture, the status, almost the smell of the place,” he explains.

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This latest book is a beautifully thought-out revision of his benchmark study of organizations, Structure in Fives, published in 1983 – which itself was a more accessible and consolidated version (“312 pages of the big type” as he notes) 1979 Book, The Structuring of Organizations: A Synthesis of the Research (“512 pages in small type”). It does not seek to depart from the fundamental analysis of what it calls “strange animals”, but it tracks the ways they have evolved and iterated in new forms.

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While outlining the differences that mark today’s organizations, he also noted some important and universal truths. An immutable essential: There is no such thing as a single way to manage or structure an organization. You cannot run a factory like you run an orchestra; You can’t run a diner like you can run a fast food franchise. Furthermore, all those oversimplified organization charts don’t say the slightest bit about the particular forces at work within a given organization.

What Mintzberg has been able to do in this latest (231 pages of very readable type with lots of useful charts) has changed the way we look at organizations now. He classifies them not to insist that there is no diversity – on the contrary, he sees endless diversity – but to clarify how the origins of an organization may have shaped how it is structured, How it is led, and at times, how it hamstrings itself. He notes how some organizations are so pioneering – “project organizations” – that they operate on “pervading ambiguity” and can feel like an “adhocracy” that is simply unable to move from one point to the next. The examples he gives for each type of organization are spot on – though maybe not the ones one might expect.

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At this point in his career, Mintzberg certainly has nothing to prove. Their ability to explain and argue is so well developed that they can put a sense of play into the mix. Regarding the title, he notes that seven is a magical number, just as useful as any other number, then goes on to create seven essential forces at work on modern organizations that make so much sense that they are a Feels like the new gospel. He dismissed common buzzwords as too easy to overestimate, especially in today’s content-saturated world. “Strategic planning is an oxymoron,” he declares, then deftly shows why. Beneath the humor resides a genuine love for the discipline of studying organizations, and beneath the surface not only to understand them better, but to enable them to function better. This is a book that belongs on our shelves, not because it is another book on management and organizations, but because it is not.

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